Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Thought Project: Week 3

How has religion shaped your beliefs in the world?

_______________________

Religion shaped my most basic concepts of good & evil, effectively ingraining in me the accepted modes of behaviour in civilized culture.

But now I think that religion is society's antibody against chaos and anarchy. It's the human collective's way of coping with ignorance and uncertainty...death & the unexplained. It's the beginner's course you have to pass so you can move on to more complex aspects of human life like art, science, politics, & porn.

It's a bunch of great stories about great human beings and some cool stuff about creation & heaven & hell & nirvana and all that. These are some of greatest stories ever told--and great stories shape the world.

- Paolo

My religion has made me believe that "truth" is relative, religion is relative, and that we have to be tolerant about our beliefs of the world against others beliefs based on what others see as "truth".

I was baptized Roman Catholic by a father who is very open minded, who never gives you the answer but as many options, and a mother who questioned whether the virginity of Mary makes Christ less or more the son of God (she believes she could have been a non virgin and the son of God would still be divine). She practically questioned every dogma of the Vatican Church. As a child i blindly followed the ways of organized religion such as the Roman Catholics' way as I really didn't have a choice in a dictatorial Chinese school.

Fast forward to the future and I'm painting the town red on weekends and sleep through sundays. I start questioning my religion, its history and how it came to be, politics of my Church, politics in general, religion as propaganda, why we are here and why my church is so hard headed. I was/am disappointed by the Vatican's actions. I see how many mistakes and imperfections my Church has. I see why they have to act that way (hard headed infalliables) and half accept them as such. I'm still very against the infallibility of the Pope.

After this tug of war of questions I realized that I personally was not built for organized religion. All the questions have actually made my faith in my God stronger but not my faith in the Vatican Church. I feel for people who are afraid to question their religion, thinking that faith is just believing cuz it is so. But I won't ram that down their throats. If they are happy that way, that's good. After I was content with myself and my religion, I lightly treaded on whether other people of other religions had questions and issues like mine. Many did...and I realized we were all in the same boat. I've never looked at my religion as better or above another but I question the actions of other religions too. In the end it has made me tolerant of other peoples' ways brought about by their religious education/beliefs. Not to say I accept all their ways. As I've mentioned...I was not built for organized religion that may influence people the wrong way. I see organized religion as too powerful a tool for good or bad... good or bad being relative.

- Jesus, your reluctant Roman Catholic

i just realized, upon thinking of my answer to this question, that i've had several varying influences religion-wise while i was growing up.

my mom was a catholic. though not exactly devout, she makes it a point to go to church on sundays. being my mother, she was the first to drag me to mass, which i started to resist when i was about 13. i told her that going to church was not something anyone should be forced to do, and she agreed.

my cousin girlie was also quite a strong influence. she was my roommate when i was in high school, as she lived with us throughout her college years. back then, she had just joined a born again christian group, and she was really taking her faith seriously. she gave me my first NIV bible, and i spent quite a lot of time poring over the pages, lingering on proverbs and psalms.

yet another strong "force" was my uncle, who was (or still is, i'm not sure) an atheist. every time my cousin would talk to him about christ, he'd scoff and laugh, and insist there isn't one, and that it's useless to believe in a supreme being.

still, even with their presence, i was never swayed toward a single belief. somehow, i always found something lacking in each. with catholicism, i wasn't too keen on the idea of saints and statues and rosaries. when i pray, i want it to come from me, not from something i memorized out of a pamphlet. i didn't get why we had to stand up, sit, and kneel at certain portions of the mass. couldn't we just listen to what the priest was saying?

my cousin's born again christian ways were a bit more acceptable, but i found some of their "rules" too... conservative, i guess. like how they weren't allowed to marry anyone outside of their group. and they way they expressed their beliefs was too much. i wasn't the type to be overly enthusiastic and expressive about these things, so maybe it wasn't for me.

atheism was something i found convenient for a time, because it was easy to just negate every religious argument. it's easy to be bitter in a crumbling world, after all. but, i couldn't quite fully embrace it, because there are things in my head that i want explained (not literally in my head).

so early on, i was taught to question, which i now find valuable. philosophy class gave me more "tools" to ask more questions and try to find out what it is i really believed in. and finally, a friend gave me a book--conversations with god by neale donald walsch, and somehow, a lot of my questions were answered. the book features a different take on god, a sort of make-your-own-faith kind of thing. it opened my eyes to a supreme being who didn't judge, who was happy to just sit high up there and watch us get confused with life, who didn't care whether he was feared or revered or respected, a god who thinks blasphemy is hogwash. it made me realize that things don't always, or are never, black and white, how crimes such as stealing and killing can be "right."

i haven't finished the book(s) from cover to cover, but i get where the author is going with what i've read so far, and it fits into my beliefs, and answered my questions. it made me see the world, and everybody else, in a different light, taught me to look at things from a different angle.

Here's an excerpt from Conversations with God (Book 2):

Author: "...how can any theology work without a system of Reward and Punishment?"

and "God" answers:

Everything depends on what you perceive to be the purpose of life--and therefore the basis of the theology.

If you believe that God is a vengeful God, jealous in His love and wrathful in His anger, then your theologies are perfect.

If you believe God is a peaceful God, joyous in Her* love and passionate in Her* ecstasy, then your theologies are useless.

I tell you this: the purpose of life is not to please God. The purpose of life is to know, and to recreate, Who You Are.

(*"God" interchanges the use of He and She to refer to the supreme being to "jar you out of your parochial thinking.")

and this is something that i could nod in agreement to, how such a few words unlock a lot of things. this is why i live the way i do, just doing things the way i feel is right, not forced or restrained by anything. but at the same time, i learned not to look down on people who don't think the way i do, because, well, we're all just here to learn, right?

- Djong

What I am thankful for is that I learned (and believe) in "goodness".

Growing up Catholic, I was taught that following a certain path reaps certain rewards, that "going astray" results in punishment. As I got older, I realized that such teachings are a little too judgemental for who we say is a "forgiving god". If my religion teaches that I should aspire to be like jesus (who is divine in human form, the epitome of goodness) because he shows us the "best person we can be, then I don't think he would be too judgemental about certain paths...especially since at my imperfect "best", I am tolerant.

Over the years, I've modified my catholicism to fit in with personal beliefs and experiences. I believe in magic, love, that people can be divine while on earth, that the whole earth has one big collective soul...I'm still trying to weave all that into a cohesive belief system but I'm feeling more spiritual with a journey like this. Ultimately, I think that honors the free will we were born with.

So there. Plenty of teachings but only two things seem to have stuck: the concept of good, and the beauty of free will. The rest I call to fore when they resound with truth, from the deepest part of my guts and at the root of my soul.

I believe in a higher power, yes. But I think the name/identity of that higher power is so much more expansive than any religion, or all religions combined.

In a way, I'm also lucky to have had more open-minded catholic religion teachers who taught me to appreciate the bible as some form of literature. It makes it so much more real to me than history.

Do I make any sense?

(What heretical ideas!!!!!!!! Kidding. Thanks for sharing, Z. - Sarah)

- Zane

I am sick of The City’s loose change and spare sanity sucked up by and lived off by an ever-increasing pile of parasitical shit-ticks incapable of standing up and dealing with the world on their own

That quote is taken from Warren Ellis’ TRANSMETROPOLITAN, a comic series following the exploits of Spider Jerusalem, outlaw journalist. Since a the quotes are going to eat up my word count, all I can say about TRANSMET is that you should go read it.

I should start with some context: I studied in an Opus Dei-run school for eleven years (6 to 17 years old) and in a catholic university for four. My parents could be considered devout Catholics. The Catholic Faith has been an unavoidable part of my entire life.

And really, I have no real problem with that. These days, it tends to be very…intellectually hip to condemn “organized religion”. Religion and faith are for the “unenlightened”.

I still consider myself a practicing Catholic (albeit an imperfect one, obviously. The only perfect Catholic got nailed to a tree 2000 years ago). I still go to Church every week and on holidays of obligation. I do my best to, at the very least, comply with the few things my Faith asks of me. You can take the boy out of Church, but you can’t take the Church out of the boy.

Why do I bother? The inherent hypocrisy in the structure of the Catholic Church, the intolerance towards differing points of view, the manipulation and exploitation of the faithful – these are all pretty good reasons to just say “fuck it” and go looking for the next path to Divine Enlightenment. Except, all the other religions tend to do the same.

I go to Mass every Sunday in the hope that maybe, just maybe, I might pick up something new from the sermon. The broad strokes of Catholicism, of any religion, I’m convinced, is to try and make humanity go beyond ourselves and just…be better. Of course, it’s a win-some-lose-some proposition.

The rest…the gossiping old ladies, the fatwas, the righteous condemnation of evil, the “us vs. them” stuff…THAT’S the opiate of the masses. That’s the product of overzealous, ignorant, or Machiavellian snobs who use religion as an excuse to further their own agendae. That’s not religion…that’s politics. It’s very human beings acting under the pretense of the divine.

The moment religion stops being about improving yourself as a human, and more about frightening and manipulating people into obedience, then it ceases to be a religion. It ceases to be divine. It’s just…exploitation, the promotion of fear and ignorance, and even hate-mongering.

Back to you, Spider:

Fucking vampires sucking the will from people whose only goddamn crimes were to be frightened and tired!

And you don’t help them! You don’t listen to them! They get no Truth from you! All you do is scare them with stories of something that doesn’t exist!

- Jon Z.


Upstarts. Baptist Vatican. Born into the faith. I can't say much more than that right now, so I will update and edit my longish draft later. Yeah, I pretty much suck.

- Sarah

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Thought Project: Week 2

What is the one trait or characteristic that you think your friends find most distinctive about you?

___________________

once, in religion class, our prof wrote various sentences with specific qualities ("nagagandahan ako sa yo," "magaling kang magdala ng problema," "alam kong malayo ang mararating mo.") and asked us to write each sentence on a piece of paper. then he asked us to give each piece of paper to anyone in the class whom they think fits that specific trait.

i was surprised to find that i got a lot of "magaling kang magdala ng problema." (bakit ba hindi na lang yung "nagagandahan ako sa yo" yung binigay sa kin?!) and time and again, even after that class activity, friends have been telling me the same thing.

i found it surprising. actually, i still do, because i don't feel like i do carry my problems well. the scandalous shoutfest i had with my mom and numerous breakdowns attest to that. but maybe they told me that because they rarely saw me shed a tear or lose my temper (though i think that has changed now, for some of you).

true, i do tend to mask my emotions, especially when i'm around a lot of people. i can smile even when sad, laugh even when i'm boiling mad. but i don't feel that that qualifies as "magaling magdala ng problema." you're just hiding it, it still hovers over you everywhere you go.

i actually think it's better when you show the world how you're feeling. that, to me, is effective "pagdadala ng problema," because you do carry it around for the world to see, and not be ashamed that you do have it. accepting it and just letting the problem be a problem actually helps, as opposed to keeping it, and pretending it doesn't exist.

- Djong

My one trait? I think I'm incredibly stubborn and prone to following my heart. Not impulsively, mind you, but after long thought and much discussion with good friends :)

- Pats, woman without a blog

Trust a former editor in chief to go from philosophy to slam-book in one breath.

I called this a "dangerous question", because really, it is. How you answer it says a lot about you. Where does the sincerity end and arrogance begin? Should it be answered in a cynical, self-deprecating manner, exuding false modesty and caustic wit? What if you have no friends? Or what if you sincerely think that none of them like you enough to call you a "friend" and you're just being presumptuous.

Sigh. I guess stalling won't work, and I already did the whole "ignore the question" routine once.

I guess I'll be pretty straighforward: If I had to identify it, I guess I'd call myself a "saccharine" friend. Not "saccharine" as in "sickeningly sweet" (eeew), but "saccharine" as in "substitute". Bits and pieces of your bestest friends (in the whoooooooole world) somewhat diluted for a experience that is almost as good as original, but with less calories.

I'd like to think I have a healthy sense of humor, but nowhere near as entertaining and charming as Bryan. I've been called "sensible" once or twice, but it's a well-known fact that I am at the very bottom rung of the Sense department, compared to the various members of my family. I can be practical, but lack the innate pragmatism, bedside manner and groundedness of engineers like Gerwin. As far as passionate or starry-eyed goes, I can keep up with, but rarely inspire, the way Djong, Koryn, or Zane can. And maybe there's some faint ember of intelligence lodged between my ears, but Sarah, Therese, Les, and Brian run rings around me in a manner that is most astounding. There may be some romance in my veins, but it pales in comparison to such paragons of Male Virtue like Ejay (who incidentally, updates his blog even less than Sarah does! It's criminal, I tell you).

I won't even go into the Good Looks department (there's a reason I am the only guy from my high school circle of friends not picked as a "Most Eligible Southridge Bachelor" on Friendster).

I know I criticized the whole "self-deprecation" thing, but I'm not doing it on purpose (well, maybe just a teeny-tiny bit). It's just, you know, you realize you have this amazing collection of people whom you consider friends, and you tend to ask yourself "Jumping Jimminy Cricket, what DO they see in me, anyway?"

I don't really know. I'd like to my "saccharine"-ness is a result of all these great people rubbing off on me, and I get to share that with everyone else.

Or it could be 'cause I give really good hugs.

Or maybe because my house used to be a regular Booze Joint. Yeah, that's probably it.

(did any of that make any sense at all?!?)

- Jon Z.

Well, that's an easy question - I'm probably the nerdiest person they ever met! I'm never without a book in hand and a recommendation for obscure bands.

Honestly, though, I have no idea. I'm a lot of things to different people. I can be quiet to some people, and outrageously bubbly with others. I suppose the closest trait I can say that's quite distinctive to me is the ability to read anywhere. I read at parties, at debuts, at gimmicks - to be specific, I've been videotaped reading at a friend's debut and a friend of mine has caught me sneaking in a few pages while relaxing in a bar. It's just something that I've never seen as ridiculous, at least from my point of view. I'm easily restless, and I need something to do. I'm quite aware of people having laughs over it, and I don't mind. Not much, anyway.

Oh, and I also steal food. Chocolate, to be specific. Djong has never let me forget it.

- Sarah

UPDATE: 21 November 2006, 7:51 PM

Ha ha! this is fun. it really depends on which friend. isn't it interesting how we reveal only certain parts of ourselves to certain friends, and bare it all to some? =D

anyhoo, they will probably report that i am a whatever-goes kind of girl, a cowboy with stuff in her head :)

- Zane

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Thought Project: Week 1

To prepare for the first question, I found this quote by Plutarch:
For never to be able to control passion shows a weak nature and ill-breeding; and always to moderate it is very hard, and to some impossible.

Plutarch, in The Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, "Solon"

Does nobility of character come when one denies oneself, or will it lead to a form of delusion?

_________________

Neh. Character, and not nobility comes from self restraint. We must remember that in their times it was all about separating our natural qualities from that of animals to prove that man was above all forms of living creatures. Passion is in man's nature, his animal nature...to restrain what cames naturally animalistic in public is elevating us above animanls. Is it a denial of our true being? I doubt so. More like evolution of man in society. The path may not always be correct. That is why we had so many movements in the past.

It was also a time when norms had to be put forth to create a society with a common culture (the many churches followed this formula too...a bit extreme at times). Without restrain it would have been each man for himself. I say man because woman had no place in society in his times.

Now the question; nobility of character from denial of self or is it a form of delusion? Answer, it depends on the norms of the times. As we see nowadays, being Howard Stern is character. This man has no self restraint. A villain is nowadays seen as someone to be awed by or at times looked upon. Following the right path (which in itself is relative to the times) is also seen as character. Character in itself is relative nowadays in our world where there is no common culture. I am a believer that we must have a common culture to function without much anxiety but I'm losing the battle. I'd be considered the one without character and delusional in a world of young folk who follow and argue that there is nothing wrong with the mantra of "me, me, me" and instant gratification for survival.... I see it differently, I think that with sacrifice or a bit of restrain we can still survive, but it's a world of each human for himself as we don't have a common culture. I'm simply outdated.

- 'Sus

First, I’m going to totally avoid the question and talk about nobility as a concept (at least, as I see it). Merriam-Webster defines “noble” as “possessing outstanding qualities”. There are more definitions in the link, but they’re all fairly vague. Traditionally we think nobility is being right and true and good, when in fact it means “better than everybody else”.

Which makes it strange as an aspiration. If I want to be noble, it means I want to or have to be aware of what people think of me. Of various third parties approving of my behavior and thus considering me “noble”. To try and be purposefully noble requires a certain amount of two-facedness – do you do something because it is right, or because everybody ELSE thinks it’s right, and thus your approval rating shoots up?

But then, that tends to contradict the common notion of nobility – which is being a good person above and beyond the call of duty, right? A person who would qualify as noble theoretically doesn’t give a good goddamn what other people think, nor whether other people think he/she is noble or not. You just do what's Right, because your momma said so (or because it's the Right thing to do). So if you want to be considered noble, you have to not want to be noble. It becomes sort of a weird zen-thing, doesn’t it?

And my point (don’t worry, I have one…I think) becomes this: it’s a slippery slope to talk about or decide on nobility as an “end”. What Plutarch talks about, in a sense, is good behavior, is about just being good people. I think it’s about finding that balance in one’s self to just do What is Right. Because if people will then consider you noble, it’s more than likely you won’t care, because all you want to do is the right thing. And if you want to be considered noble, and do things to be “better” than everybody else… well, then you’re just an arrogant bastard with a budding superiority complex.

- Jon Z.

I think nobility of character stems from being unafraid to be perceived as delusional. It takes some serious guts to moderate one's concern for what others think about oneself.

- Zane

Nobility of character...such a loaded term. Can you have one without the other? But that's another question in itself. So - on to the first question. Nobility, to me, has always had implicit sacrifice. One cannot be noble without sacrificing anything. But again, what are you sacrificing for? For yourself, or for someone/something else? It leads to quashing something within yourself in order to abide by societal rules.

To already think of stifling a part of yourself brings troubling thoughts. It says, to me, that you're not completely comfortable with who you are. That you live by others' praises and opinions. That you're shackled by the rules of your religion. Society says that you must not live for yourself, but you cannot live for them either. Surely there's a happy medium here somewhere.

As I infer from Plutarch's quote, one can never live a life free of passion. We are only human; we have our urges and desires. But by not living out what makes us human, we're continuing to hurt ourselves and the ones we love. You think your sacrifice is noble because it seems like the right thing to do? There's your delusion.

- Sarah

UPDATE: 16 November 2006, 12:54 pm
UPDATE II: 16 November 2006, 5:48 pm
UPDATE III: 21 November 2006, 8:17 pm

Denying oneself doesn't necessarily make you noble. Most people do it in the name of religion, claiming that their self-denial will earn them brownie points with a god who appreciates self-sacrifice. After all, Jesus did it himself, on behalf of all the world's sinners. But that was the point of Jesus's life, to save sinners - he wanted to, he could, and he succeeded!

Most mortals, on the other hand, generally deny themselves to conform to the wishes of selfish people, not to reach self-actualization. People deny their true identities - consider religious homosexuals refraining from following their hearts because they'll burn in the fires of hell. Maybe religion is a good enough refuge for them, but they will forever feel like there is something missing from their lives. People deny their true vocations - consider children who study a course against their will just because their parents want them to take that course. It might be admirable for them to be so obedient to their parents, but they are short-changing themselves by not being fully committed to their life direction. Some other industry is deprived of a stellar and passionate painter, pilot, lawyer, or journalist because that person is slogging through a caregiving course.

Sometimes, of course, self-denial can be ennobling, as when you stop yourself from being a negative person, or when Mother Teresa devoted her life to serving India's poor. It's ennobling when you deny yourself a course of action because you recognize how it will make you and other people both better off and happier. There is no nobility in suffering if you can't suffer gracefully and turn out an inwardly bitter, unfulfilled person. Most people aren't saints, and will be secretly unhappy if they deny themselves something they really want.

Self-denial is ennobling only if it makes you happy, perversely. Happy not that you are suffering, but that you never really needed whatever it is you denied yourself. If your self-denial serves to make your life lighter and easier to live (because you're on the path you want to be), then it is ennobling because it makes you a better person.

- Pats, woman without a blog

"For never to be able to control passion shows a weak nature and ill-breeding; and always to moderate it is very hard, and to some impossible."

Passion is good. We all have it. We all need to be able to express it, and let it out. I am all for passion. (Go! Hahaha!)

As simple as it may seem, I guess what Plutarch is trying to say is, "Anything in excess is bad."

I don't think denying oneself (whether totally or partially) of one's passion equals nobility of character. But I also don't think that controlling or moderating your passion can lead to a form of delusion or lead you to live a double life.

It's all a matter of controlling it. Giving in to your passion doesn't necessarily mean allowing it to consume you. And controlling it doesn't also mean denying yourself of it.

I think weakness of nature comes in when you allow it to consume you, or if you allow it to be unconsumed.

As they say, "Everything in moderation."

- Shen

I think the first thing we have to do is define "nobility". In this context, I guess that "nobility" is tied to one's ability to transcend one's urges, wholesome or otherwise. This would mean that a noble act is the denial of one's pleasure and/or convenience, since "being human" is equated with weakness and the inability to control one's desires. One’s character then, is tantamount to discipline. After all, there is nothing more shameful or disgusting than to have animalistic urges, i.e. eat like a pig, have sex like bunnies, considering that the humans have the gift of rationality and should therefore “know better”. Strangely, most people do not associate these two. Premise one: being human is being weak. Premise two: the ability to think and feel separates man from animal.


So what does it mean to be human then? And what does it mean to have “character” if both principles are taken into consideration? I think it would be limiting to say that character is based on the merit of depravity and disregard of base needs. If this is the case, then passions would be considered a vice and therefore, something to be avoided.

Then again, it is unfair to take these things in absolute terms. Pleasure and motivation are two things to be considered since these are strangely intertwined. It would be a shame to disallow the self of depriving enjoyment from something; after all, this is a distinguishing trait of being human. We eat because we are hungry, but also take into consideration what to eat. If the situation allows it, you would not have scraps for lunch would you? Nor would you drink a strange concoction of vinegar and isopropyl alcohol in pursuit of a cocktail treat.

Being human, I think, is knowing better. True, we seek pleasure for pleasure’s sake, be it sense or mind. But acknowledging this truth, that is to submit to one’s desires/whims/brat attacks, is character itself. There’s nothing wrong with admitting a need but it becomes problematic when “need” and “want” overlap. Weakness is merely submitting to wants and needs. Character is knowing the answers to the how’s, what’s, why’s and when’s of both.

- Shelah (whom I promised not to post how she got her answer; Old Spice and yoghurt are clues)

Introducing: The Thought Project

I'd like to introduce a new project that's been in the works for a little over seven days. (I know, right?) Briefly, it involves asking a question every Tuesday and having people answer it over the week, with my posting their answers on the next Tuesday. Here's an excerpt from my e-mail:
It's a "Question of the Week" sort of thing, a project for my rarely-updated blog. (Shameless self-promotion, I know.) Since we all have our beliefs, I thought we could share with one another our reasons for our faith, our life, our actions; in short, a look into the human condition and how well we really know ourselves.
I'm happy I've got a lot of positive feedback on this. I've always wanted to know what other people think about life and their philosophy in it. Here's to sharing their thoughts with the world.

*I included a photo of Jens Lehmann just because.